The four-stringed instrument was surely crafted for romantic transcendental bliss. But that’s not quite the case with my gritty violin. It was bought from some third class provender. One afternoon, I was surprised with the encased present; but then, I quickly wondered what must have been the collaborated ploy. Well, the week after, true to my premonition, I got introduced to a nerdy Professor who was to be my Tuesday night solfeggio and violin mentor, from now hence. With disdain, I bid goodbye to my street-play commitments in lieu of my parent’s cultural imposition.
It was a journey of pain and lament. During the very first lesson my teacher asked for my instrument, which upon his quick scan revealed an insidious smirk. With an accompanying cattiness, he then unpacked his violin from its costly brown case. His was truly beautiful: the light tan, the unusual gloss, which emitted a sensuous scent. With the first down stroke … I was so enthralled by its resonant ambience. When I was asked to play mine, all that it could produce was a half-muted eek, which rode on four wheels while stirring off-road notes. Nonetheless, I was consoled to pay close scrutiny to my lessons and not to focus on my challenged implement. And so I tried. Months of hard labor took me to some degree of competence. The constant backdrop of extemporaneous howl from our neighborhood canine chorale at least affirmed the proper placement of my high notes.
On Christmas night, a social gathering of about 300 people, were set to witness my first solo finale: Stille Nacht. All kinds of dignified persons showed up with holiday smiles and kind expectations. Not to be hidden by any limelight, the Professor kept on fine-tuning my violin despite its dormant readiness. Up to the very last second, he compulsively directed the audience’s attention towards who was the protégé’s Maestro.
And so it was time for the serenade of the night.
On the first down-stroke, all of Hades seemed loose. I noticed that all strings except for one were in tune. For some mysterious conspiracy, my violin defected from any good intentions and went on a sordid recalculation towards self-expression. Silent Night was hardly recognizable as I fought with incongruence for every note. I could not make sense of whatever dissonance was fueling the cruel coup de tat. The audience grew silently pale each seconds. The Professor was obviously wincing in pain as I sought to terminate the malignancy of my misery. While there was a courteous applause, I hurried to bury my violin to its casket, while imploring my mentor not to lay any more hands upon this hushed renegade.
Silent Night, Wholly Blight!
A song of ascents. Of David.
My heart is not proud, O LORD,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, put your hope in the LORD
both now and forevermore.
But Jesus remained silent.
Matthew 26:63 NIV
There is a specific kind of stillness that calls the believer to enter in: a sacred hush before the Almighty. In a world that is both hurried and noisy, the discipline of being silent before God becomes a formidable undertaking. There is nothing in our rambunctious culture that truly understands what it means to be hushed in the presence of the Triune God.
There is much silence, to be sure, but it is the kind that is elicited from despondency. There is silence that emanates from defeat and utter hopelessness. There is silence that comes from the unceasing blows of heaping rape and abuse. There is silence that rises from the face of death. Silence becomes a sting that deflates the human soul from soaring and wrestled unto a crawling existence. But there is a kind of stillness that this world knows not of. It is the kind of serene solitude that results from being in God’s presence.
A proud heart does not understand such stillness. The arrogance of humanity is expressed in our propensity to solicit control of all things. We seem to find a semblance of established identity when we exert our will to govern anything that surrounds us. We become managers of this, and managers of that. We superintend all things, from tuning violins to defining earthlings. We seek to control in order to feign who we are not: omnipotent creatures made to reign over all things, devoid of God’s lead.
The Psalmist declares: “My heart is not proud, O LORD,” as the starting point of his intent to be still before God. We are called to enter into a holy hush by bridling our hearts to recognize our proper place in God’s economy. God alone is God. When we consider the immensity of His character as Trinity, we are sent into a sense of deep awe on who has committed to walk alongside our life journey: The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. Three in One. One in Three. The Triune God in perfect tune with their delight in seeking what is good for us. When this is acknowledged, all arrogant haughtiness comes to a halt.
The stillness of one’s soul passes through the discipline of trusting the One who alone can do no wrong. Like the stillness of a weaned child next to his mother, we assume the posture of utmost dependence. Our hope is singularly anchored upon God’s wisdom: his timing and provisions are impeccable. We move out of his way, in order to experience the full measure of his care.
The challenge of this discipline lies in its consistency. We are called to a life of abiding hush “both now and forevermore.” Our present journey, as well as our future steps find sure ground under God’s all-knowing care.
As we imbibe this kind of stillness, we enter into a life of celebration where nothing ever succeeds in pulling us down. The stings of this world no longer bite. Even the captain of all anguish, lies decapitated: O death, where is thy sting?
The true knowledge of God’s abiding presence has taken over all our strident anxieties. God is amongst us. We are hushed within His presence.
I considered king Muhammad Ali nonpareil. I followed his illustrious reign without impedance. When father showed up with boxing gloves, I transformed between a dancing butterfly and a stinging bee. Papa was no pugilist but he understood the science of a good punch. We had hours of sparred laughter, yielding lessons to quell cowardice and its kinsman. For the big man, quitting was out of the question. If you fall, you better hit the deck fighting.
There was not a challenge he did not face. The fabric of his difficult childhood had forged a seasoned fighter. Through the conquests and havocs, I see him as some Gibraltar-mound constantly pulling me up to heights beyond my reckoning.
Alzheimer’s in red trunks struck him while he was battling esophageal cancer. The brilliance of his intellect faded like an abused pair of jeans washed through a million cycles of detergent impunity. One day, he called complaining about my mother’s insensitivity to his triumphant promotion: he has been recently named the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. He excitedly shared details of his talks with Kobe Bryant, and the exciting stratagems he was devising. He intimated the need for my help to help him move to a large house, guaranteed alongside his astronomic paycheck. It was painfully cruel to listen to these intermittent figments, but nothing was more revolting than his lost affections towards mother. The escalating verbal abuse, incoherently hurled towards her was overpowering, to say the least.
Life had a way of throwing him towards the ropes while methodically pummeling every live tissue in his withered frame. In moments of temporary lucidity, he would remind me that in the event of serious intervention, “please spare my dignity, do not allow any tube to hold my life.”
That week, an awakening took place. He inquired for the wife of his youth. Mother was in New Jersey that time, assisting my youngest sister with her pregnancy. Over the phone, he went on a surreal rehearsal of my mother’s charm, beauty and enduring grace. His final words were: “Please tell the beautiful lady to come home, I need her next to me.”
I did not realize the evanescent cadence of his hourglass until I was told that he was dying. I flew to Los Angeles with haste and upon arrival, all that I saw were multiple tubes attached to the fallen warrior. I knew exactly what he was subconsciously beseeching for me to pull off.
The final minute stood still like a wind so strong yet completely tamed. I held his hand, sensing the torrid punches being fiercely landed. It was my turn to be in his corner. I whispered “ Papa, please show me how this is done. How must I pass this way to Christ, when the final tap is heard? Show me, now.” With one strong breath, he beamed his robust admonition with opulence.
There was this kind of hush that I knew my father experienced: his King of Glory, proclaimed him winner by magnanimous redemption.